The first divorce attorney I interviewed for divorce advice when I was newly separated turned out to be a disaster. Recommended by a close friend, (which I actually still can’t believe), this attorney was arrogant and conceited, and lacked any type of compassion whatsoever. All I could think was, “Every judge must hate this person.” She was unlikeable. Cold. Needless to say, I left her office in tears, feeling worse than I did before I met her.
Fast forward eight years later. Now in a completely different role—a divorce writer and speaker—I sat down and interviewed divorce attorney, Meighan Harmon (pictured above), a Senior Partner at Schiller DuCanto & Fleck, the firm that sponsors Divorced Girl Smiling.
What a 180! I found Harmon to be sharp and non-nonsense, yet she is also caring and compassionate. It’s a combination that has gotten Harmon where she is today, a top-notch leader in the field of divorce and family law.
Here is my Q and A with Meighan Harmon:
- What is it like when a client first comes to see you? (I wanted to add, ‘I hope you’re a little nicer than the nightmare I experienced!)
MH: When people go through a divorce, they go through stages of grieving, just like when people die. The stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. When people come to see me, they might be in any of those five stages. It’s very important to understand where the client is because it’s difficult for the person to engage productively in the process if they are still in denial or anger. So, it’s necessary to assess, so you can help them get where they need to be to effectively, help them advocate for themselves, and help them engage in the process to protect their interests.
- What is the biggest mistake you see clients make?
MH: Allowing themselves to be driven by the anger and hurt of the breakup as opposed to making decisions based upon what’s in their best interest. For example, sometimes people fight about the principle as opposed to really doing a cost benefit analysis of whether or not the fight makes any sense or is worth it. I once had a case where the couple was fighting over a cook book collection for thousands of dollars that could have been replaced by eBay for $100.
- What should people look for when they are looking for a divorce attorney?
MH: It’s important for people to have a sense that the lawyer they are hiring not only understands the law, but the dynamic of the relationship they are dealing with. Lawyers have to want to know how the people got to where they are. They really have to take the time to understand the dynamic of the case, and they have to care enough to find out. Often times, the negotiation of cases is very emotionally driven and very nuanced, and without understanding what’s really motivating and driving people, it’s like trying to negotiate in a vacuum.
- What’s your favorite part of being a divorce attorney?
MH: Watching people go through the process and start to get excited about their future. They almost transform. People come in and they’re more focused on looking back and trying to figure out what went wrong and sometimes assign blame. They want to keep as much of a semblance of their past life as they can. But, through the process, they begin looking forward and reinventing themselves and they look into what the future is going to be like. To watch someone move from being in a bad place to getting excited about what’s next is wonderful to watch and empowering to them. Often times it’s physical transformation, which is exciting to see, as well.
Meighan Harmon graduated from Notre Dame Law School, and spent five years as a family law attorney for a small firm before joining Schiller DuCanto & Fleck in 2001. She became a partner of the firm in 2004 and a Senior Partner in 2012. Harmon lives in Chicago with her husband and their daughter. Learn more: SDFlaw.com